TERRE HAUTE —
Fire trucks lined the streets leading up to the community center, but it was hot holiday toys, not smoke, that had everyone’s attention.
Members of the Terre Haute City Fire Department’s Local 758 dropped off a load of new, wrapped toys for children at the 14th and Chestnut Community Center Wednesday afternoon. At 10 a.m. Friday, the group will bring an equal load to St. Ann’s Clinic for child patients there.
Firefighter Charlie Karr said funds are provided by the community as the union hosts an annual chili cook-off in May, as well as a retirement party in November. This year’s efforts raised $7,500 which will be split between the community center and clinic. A combined 162 children will receive Christmas presents this year as a result, up from 103 last year, he said.
“We went shopping Saturday morning and then we all met that evening and wrapped,” he said, explaining the group aims to spend $50 per child.
Karr said the union’s Christmas program started out as a benefit for the clinic but has grown in recent years. Other firefighters joked good-naturedly about which names to use as credit for the program, pointing out it’s a community effort.
“One of our captains started it about six years ago and we’ve continued it,” he said, adding that firefighter prefers to remain anonymous.
Toys wrapped in holiday paper were stacked in the center’s basement play room. From basketballs to LEGOS and “Thomas the Train” sets, organizers said the toys represent a diversity of interests. Melissa Dillman, an Ivy Tech student who volunteers at the center said a lot of children’s wishes should come true.
“We’ve gotten a lot of Baby Alive’s for the girls,” she said, explaining that’s been a popular request. Growing up in a big family, she said working with children is especially fun for her. “I have a heart for kids.”
Jeannie Townsend, office administrator for the center, said the group has 235 children on its activities rosters, a number which fluctuates throughout the year. Last week 109 children participated in the center’s after-school program, but the organization switches to day-long programming when school is not in session.
“We switch to days when schools are out because a lot of the kids don’t get breakfast anywhere when there’s no school. They get breakfast and lunch here,” she said, estimating they’ll pass out 140 Christmas bags out next week.
Volunteer Jasmine Murray, an AmeriCorps worker who graduated from Indiana State University in 2011, said she’s been helping at the center for three years now.
“I like kids,” the Fort Wayne native said, remarking at how unique the Wabash Valley’s generosity continues to be. “I am so astonished at how the community gives back to the center. Not every community does that.”
Brian Boyce can be reached 812-231-4253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.